Top Catholic School told to halt admissions preference over parents' service in church community

Activities that could help pupil into London Oratory included reading lessons, serving at altar, singing in choir or flower arranging

Education Editor

The school to which Tony Blair sent his sons has been ordered to change its admissions policy after a watchdog ruled it was wrong to give priority pupils whose parents had been involved in activities like flower arranging or reading a lesson in their local church.

The Office of the Schools Adjudicator has told the London Oratory school, a Roman Catholic boys' comprehensive in Fulham, west London - which admits girls to the sixth-form - that it cannot give preference to pupils whose parents have given at least three years' service to their local church community.

The activities which could help a pupil secure a place under the code included reading, serving at the altar, singing in the choir or playing the organ or flower arranging.

David Lennard Jones, the adjudicator - who decides whether schools' admissions policies are within the rules, said he felt the practice was "unfair".

The school, one of the most oversubscribed in the country, has been sought after by many leading politicians in search of a state school for their children.

Both former Prime Minister Tony Blair and current Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg have faced criticism for sending their children there on the grounds they have ignored their nearest comprehensives to seek a place at the Oratory. Critics of Mr Blair pointed out that it had sought grant-maintained status - opting out of local authority control - under the previous Conservative administration, a status Labour outlawed after winning the 1997 election.  They also claimed it used "covert" selection policies.

Other politicians who have sent children there include Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman and former Education Secretary Ruth Kelly.

In his ruling, Mr Lennard Jones said the practice meant parents who wanted a place would have to start planning three years before applying.  "This process will favour those parents who are good at planning ahead and are sufficiently well organised to identify the admissions criteria, who ensure that they undertake the necessary activities and keep sufficient records to be able to evidence that they have done this," he added.

He asked whether it was unfair "for anyone to be required to be doing something for as long as four years before the timer of admission in order to gain priority"  and argued that it was opposed by the local Roman Catholic diocese, adding: "The families who this applies to would feel unfairly treated either because they were unaware of the requirement until the time of application (perhaps because they did not at the time live in the London area) and by then it was too late to change their practice  or because they were aware in time but did not feel that it was fair they should have to change their practice".

The service clause was one of four hurdles for applicants to clear and whittled the number of those qualifying for a place down from 800 to 265.  Only 160 places are available a year.

The school's admissions policy was also criticised on the grounds that it did not make it clear enough that a child who was a non-Catholic could be admitted if a place was available - although , in practice, it was conceded this was unlikely to happen because the school was so oversubscribed by Catholic parents seeking a place.

Its practice of asking for predicted GCSE grades plus an assessment of whether a candidate was ready for an A-level course before admission to the sixth-form was also outlawed because it could be construed as asking for a reference - forbidden in the admissions code.  The school was also told it should not ask foer a birth certificate before offering a place to a pupil.

This is the second time an adjudicator has ruled against the school's admissions policy. Earlier it had been criticised for for including cleaning as a service a parent could provide to help boost their chances of a place.

Richy Thompson, of the British Humanist Association - which made the objection to the school's policy, said: "This state-funded school is one of the most socio-economically selective in the country, taking in under 20 per cent as many pupils requiring free school meals as live in the area in which it is based.

"The degree to which the school's admissions criteria enabled social engineering to take place was appalling and we are very pleased these parts must now all be removed."

David McFadden, London Oratory's headmaster, said it was "perplexing" that the local Catholic diocese had supported the BHA's objection against the use of "good acts" as an oversubscription criteria, adding: "As a Christian faith and good acts go hand in hand."

He went on:  "Obviously the school is taking advice regarding the ... determination and considering its options, which include ultimately the right to appeal by judicial review."

It has agreed, though, to change its sixth-form practice, make it clear that non Catholics could be admitted and drop the requirement that a birth certificate should be provided prior to obtaining a place, according to the adjudicator.

The admissions code was brought in to try and outlaw schools covertly selecting pupils - by, amongst other things, interviewing parents and asking questions like "is there a suitable place in your home for your child to do homework?" - which was thought to rule out the children of parents living in poverty.

THE BREACHES OF THE CODE

The School's Adjudicator has ruled that London Oratory's decision to rank parents on their (or their children's) service to the Catholic Church was a breach of the code. Under this, they had to carry out activities such as reading (in church), singing in the choir or playing an instrument, serving at the altar or flower arranging.  One of the reasons why it should be outlawed, said the Schools Adjudicator, was because the three year period meant that they would have had to be doing it before they decided to apply for a place at the school. In addition, it was considered to be practical support for the church - which is disallowed under the admissions code.

The school was also considered to be in breach of the code for insisting on seeing "information about expected performance at GCSE and suitability for an A-level course" for those seeking to join its sixth-form.  This breached the code's insistence that schools should not have to provide a reference for pupils. The school has agreed to amend this.

The practice of seeing pupils' birth certificates before awarding a place was also considered a breach of the code. The school has also agreed to amend this, says the adjudicator.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

AER Teachers: Early Years Teaching Assistant Newham

Negotiable: AER Teachers: Outstanding East London primary school seeking an Ea...

AER Teachers: Southwark primary School looking for teaching assistants

Negotiable: AER Teachers: Southwark primary School looking for teaching assist...

Royal College of Music: Assistant to the Deputy Director & the Director of Research

£24,451 - £27,061 per annum: Royal College of Music: The Royal College of Musi...

Guru Careers: Marketing Analyst / Optimisation Analyst

£35 - £45k DOE + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing / Optimisation Analyst is...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future